Ticket-fixing probe shows city still has 2 sets of rules
Some scams in Philadelphia just never get old. In case you missed it, the city's inspector general issued a report last week that detailed the fixing of thousands of dollars' worth of parking tickets for relatives and at least one unnamed food-delivery business.
Some scams in Philadelphia just never get old.
In case you missed it, the city's inspector general issued a report last week that detailed the fixing of thousands of dollars' worth of parking tickets for relatives and at least one unnamed food-delivery business.
Six employees were either fired or forced to resign as a result of the probe. No one has been charged, but the case has been turned over to the district attorney for his review.
Eliminating a corrupt cancer like ticket fixing isn't easy. Mayor Nutter offered a snappy quote about how, unlike the telephone company, the city didn't offer a "friends and family" plan when it comes to parking tickets.
But in reality, fixing parking tickets is a proud tradition in Philadelphia, like scrapple and parking in the middle of Broad Street. My barber boasts of having a special phone number in the 1970s to get tickets fixed for preferred customers.
In 2003, the Daily News did a story that detailed how the head of the agency that handled parking ticket appeals tossed out 125,000 tickets over six years valued at more than $6 million.
Many of the people on the list were pols and well-connected businessmen who had dozens of tickets tossed. Everyone had what they said was a valid reason for fighting the tickets.
Some were better than others. I know because I worked on the story with two ace reporters, Bob Warner and Joe Daughen, when I was at the People Paper. I recall they did most of the work. Maybe that's why it was such a fun piece.
The thing that still stands out was how many managed to maintain a straight face while explaining how they beat the tickets. A number who had parking tickets dismissed made sure to stress that they also paid many tickets, as if that made it OK to get others tossed.
State Sen. Anthony Williams (35 tickets dismissed) said he got parking tickets while on official business. "Am I supposed to carry around a million quarters so I can park and go to meetings?" he asked.
Try using that one next time you're in traffic court.
Mitchell Rubin, the former chairman of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, had 180 parking tickets tossed out. He gave some convoluted answer about having a valid parking permit that didn't match the license plate on his state-issued car.
Even if that was true, there was one problem: about half the tickets were for no-parking zones, like in front of fire hydrants, where even a valid permit is no good.
Rubin was later convicted on unrelated obstruction charges stemming from the corruption trial of former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo. Those in Fumo World always did feel entitled.
Arthur Makadon, the former managing partner at Ballard Spahr L.L.P., said he appealed parking tickets in bunches and didn't get any special treatment. Makadon said he got tickets dismissed for things like parking his car on the sidewalk outside his home while running errands.
Who knew the five-second rule for eating food that drops on the floor applied to parking your car on the sidewalk?
In the scheme of things, getting dozens of parking tickets tossed may not seem like a big deal. But it signals to honest taxpayers that there are separate rules for the well-connected.
While insiders know how to work the system, only suckers pay parking tickets. That underscores the thinking that in order to navigate the city's Byzantine systems, you need to know someone or learn to pay to play. It also helps breed a broader culture of corruption that has long dogged City Hall.
In last week's case, Inspector General Amy Kurland's probe found widespread problems in the city department that handles parking-ticket appeals. She said the "integrity of the entire department was compromised."
That doesn't sound like the "few bad apples" theory that officials often trot out for scandals that ensnare public employees. In fact, this is a department that has been a cesspool for years.
Often it is only through the work of law enforcement, an oversight agency, or the media that forces some change. Even that's not always lasting.
The ticket handler the Daily News exposed in 2003 was convicted two years later of extorting bribes from the owner of a taxicab fleet in return for dismissing thousands of dollars in parking tickets.
Joseph F. Hoffman Jr., the son of a Democratic ward leader in South Philadelphia, was sentenced to two years in federal prison, but has managed to remain free for five years pending appeals and some health issues.
Maybe one day Hoffman will have to serve his time. But his case clearly wasn't a deterrent. If anything, recent events show that fixing parking tickets in Philadelphia remains a proud tradition.